With the introduction of open concept workspaces, interruptions at work rose to a new level. Now, with more employees working from home, interruptions are equally common though the cause has shifted. Rather than co-workers creating the distraction, spouses, children, and message notifications create a disruption of workflow. Regardless of source, interruptions at work are a hurdle to conquer. 

Interruptions at work aren’t a new challenge. The topic has received considerable attention by organizational researchers, particularly with the rise of technology in the workplace. Alerts, a variety of screens, and multiple platforms now provide more information and communication channels for employees.Technology has led to further distractibility and lack of focus for employees pivoting between these demands. 2020 created additional challenges for worker attention with the addition of the new technology channels required to keep remote teams connected. 

The impact of interruptions at work is significant, with recovery time ranging from 8 minutes to 25 minutes, depending on the complexity of the task. Even a quick “how’s it going” from a well-meaning co-worker or family member can make you lose focus and stop progress. UC Berkeley reports that, “Frequent interruptions can also lead to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments, and a doubling of error rates.”

With this in mind, let’s look at some ways to minimize interruptions at work for better productivity and wellbeing.

Communicate clearly

Let your co-workers or family know you need focused time to work. If you have an office with a door, place a do-not-disturb sign on the outside or post your “office hours.” Tips for working in  an open-concept environment include respecting privacy and transparent communication with your team. If you’re working at home, use the same closed-door policy (if you have a door) and have regular family meetings to communicate expectations during working hours. Tag team with your spouse to tend to young kids to minimize interruptions at work. 

Put tech to work

Use your do-not-disturb feature on your phone and turn notifications off on your computer to minimize interruptions at work. Set an auto response on your email to let colleagues and clients know you will be unavailable during certain hours (or days) with details about when they can expect to hear back from you. Use an app like BetterYou to help track your time and keep you focused on the things that matter most, including work. 

Ready your response

Know that despite your best efforts you will experience interruptions at work. When this happens, have a go-to phrase for when that interruption comes. While tempting, don’t say you’re sorry for your response but clearly and politely communicate your need to focus. Suggestions include, “I’m in the middle of something right now but I’ll get back to you tomorrow” or “I’m busy right now but feel free to send me a meeting request.” Setting healthy boundaries at work is important to improve your productivity and preserve your wellbeing. 

No matter what your work setting, interruptions at work play a part in your overall wellbeing, productivity, and happiness. Taking time to practice communicating clearly, putting tech to work, and readying your response will lead to a better outcome for all.